The real truth about Indonesian deforestation

The real truth about Indonesian deforestation

11 January 2008

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by Yasmi Adriansyah

Indonesia — What a shocking picture. This was my first reaction after seeing the photo on the front-page of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) issue of Dec.5. The photo shows the devastating effect of deforestation in Indonesia.

In its related article entitled Indonesia’s Shrinking Forest, A Glimmer of Hope, it is said that as a result of human activity, Indonesia has become the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG). Ironically, the country was also the host of the recent UNFCCC meeting in Bali, a prominent global forum to combat global warming caused by GHG emissions.

Besides describing environmental destruction, the article also touches upon another causing factor: corruption. In short, the conclusion is that corruption is one of the main reasons behind deforestation in Indonesia. The case of Adelin Lis is taken by IHT as an example.

Are the above-mentioned picture and judgment the real truth about Indonesia? Maybe. Nevertheless, I have to say that they are not the whole truth.

If we peruse a number of scientific and prominent reports on world GHG emissions, Indonesia has never belonged in the top five. Even the World Bank publication entitled Growth and CO2 Emissions: How do countries differ (November 2007) states that Indonesia ranks just twentieth.

If Indonesia is ranked as the third largest emitter, it is probably in relation to peat land. As argued by Wetlands International, Indonesia has been losing a huge area of trees on account of deforestation. This phenomenon is worrying scientists and others since Indonesia’s forests are hoped to be conserved for the sake of soaking up carbon dioxide (CO2), the main component of GHG’s. In other words, Indonesia’s forests play a significant role in slowing down global warming.

Against this backdrop, we must bear in mind that the focus of world efforts to combat GHG through the UNFCCC or Kyoto Protocol is the emissions from industrial development and urban consumption. We cannot merely switch the main focus to another dimension since this would not really address the real global challenges.

I am not saying that deforestation is acceptable. Not at all. It is horrifying. In fact, Indonesia is suffering as a result, particularly if deforestation is caused by human greed, which is behind the illegal logging trade.

However, it must be noted that Indonesia’s deforestation is also caused by fires that, to some extent, are created by nature. Geographically, a large part of Indonesia’s forests are peat land. This situation tends to generate forest and ground fires, particularly during the dry season, which lasts almost two-thirds of the year in Indonesia.

Corruption as a contributing factor? Again, this may be true, but it is not the whole truth. The case of Adelin Lis probably met the judgment. Nevertheless, we must also look at how other corrupt giants have been harshly sentenced because of their notorious crimes against our forest.

An example is the Bob Hasan case. He was once a giant player in Indonesia’s logging business as well as a former Trade and Industry Minister. After being found guilty of corruption, he was charged and served time in jail for more than five years. He also had to pay the State around US$250 million.

This kind of shock therapy has been very common in Indonesia recently. Nowadays, more and more corrupt officials and business people have been convicted as guilty and punished. This is definitely yielding positive results as people become more aware of the harsh consequences of corruption. Furthermore, because of this anti-corruption campaign, which is led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself, more state funds are saved and more people are wary of committing crime.

Let us now turn back to the issue of deforestation. If the world, and in particular the developed countries, want Indonesia to protect its forests, then why not help the country conserve them. Have not Indonesia and other parts of the developing world asked for carbon-trading proposals? Have they not requested compensation for conservation?

Indonesia, as often stated by Yudhoyono, has always been committed to forest conservation. The country has also been fighting illegal logging for years. Nevertheless, like any other developing country, it needs greater capacity as well as financial muscle to do so successfully.

If developed countries are serious about combating global warming, they should prove it with deeds. In the case of deforestation, they must handle the issue in line with the concerns of forest countries. And most importantly, in the case of industrial GHG emissions, together with developing world they must implement the Kyoto Protocol and get it underway in a balanced and expeditious manner.

The writer is an Indonesian diplomat serving in Geneva and a graduate of Oxford University. He is a co-author of Environmental Multilateral Diplomacy (2001). This is a personal view. He can be reached at

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